Q&A with UN adviser Amina Mohammed: MDGs 'not deep enough'


Amina Mohammed, the United Nations' Special Advisor of the Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning, speaks at the The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health conference in Johannesburg, South Africa in June 2014.


Tracy Jarrett

With the United Nations Millennium Development Goals—the eight international development goals established to promote global health, eradicate poverty, and achieve universal education—set to expire in 2015, questions remain on how successful implementation of the goals have been on the ground. Earlier this week, in an annual report published on the MDGs, the UN concluded that “substantial progress has been made in most areas, but much more effort is needed to reach the set targets.” 

Reporter Tracy Jarrett sat down with Amina Mohammed, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Post-2015 Development Planning, at last week's Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health conference held in Johannesburg to learn more about the successes and failures of the MDGs and how these goals will be sustained beyond 2015.

GlobalPost: What has been learned from the Millennium Development Goals that were set in 2000?

Amina Mohammed: The good thing the MDGs did was really bring the development agenda together as one.

We learned lots of lessons. For instance, trying to resolve the issue of maternal mortality was more than just having primary health care centers equipped. You needed much more infrastructure, you needed access for the poor, they needed good midwives, we needed analysis of what was happening, we needed money on a regular basis – not just one off – and we needed to do this at scale. We were not talking about a few thousand people, we were talking about millions.

The MDGs were not deep enough for us to really deal with the scale of the issues, and that’s why you see mixed blessings today. Some goals we’ve been able to achieve and others are still unfinished business, and I think that for us, the lessons of the MDGs is what is possible and that’s been a wonderful lesson.

GP: Where are we today in terms of the MDGs?

AM: We have seen countries grow and improve, but it’s insufficient. The difference between the “haves” and the “have nots” has grown larger, and we have to do something about that.

GP: What are the global goals past 2015?

AM: I think first and foremost, the starting block is the unfinished business of the MDGs. We want to use sustainable development conceptually, to tackle these goals. To say we’ve got to have social inclusion, economic development has to be with people – and with young people – in making sure we have transformation for all. If you see the articulation of the 17 Sustainable Millennium Goals so far, the first six or seven are MDGs and that is really a response by member states to the clarion call to the huge outreach that we’ve had with the MDGs. When you ask young people, and for the first time we have done that, the top three or four issues are: health, education, jobs, and responsive government.

GP: How do countries turn the MDGs and the new post 2015 goals into tangible programs that work on the country level?

AM: Because a sustainable form of governance is a different way of tackling poverty eradication, it won’t be business as usual. I think in making these goals real, they should be an integral part of what we see in a country, and they should be seen as a set of goals, a set of targets, that lift the ambition of countries and motivate them to be part of a global partnership.

GP: What role does government accountability play in sustaining the MDGs and post 2015 goals?

AM: Let’s remember this is a universal agenda. There are externalities for governments with the best will in the world that make it [hard for them] to prioritize these goals. For example, some can’t make the revenues they need because of trade barriers.

In terms of accountability, we also need to find different mechanisms beyond monitoring and evaluation. We need to make sure we have the baseline data that is credible, that has integrity, to tell us where we are missing things or people are not being reached. It will tell us if we are doing well or not doing so well.

GP: What is the role of private sector post 2015? How might that role be different than what it is currently?

This has been a very difficult discussion because the first reality check was that we speak different languages. The development agenda has always been between governments and donors—and business is something else, somewhere else.

If the economic transformations are going to be real, and there is a serious attempt to deal with inequalities, then we have to look at what roles will business play in all of this. I think opening up our markets – [for example], looking at the full cycle of the agricultural chain so that business is not just dealing with production, but with storage, how products get to market, where women are included, how to link the markets internally and externally—business has a role to play in that.

[Businesses] also have a big role to play in looking at their [environmental] footprint. How do we deal with sustainable consumption production? How do we use technologies to green our economies in a way that makes them more sustainable? 

GP: In what area are private businesses making the biggest difference?

AM: The greatest difference will be in health at the moment, but I think that’s because the partnerships the Secretary-General put in place during the course of the MDGs have really brought together business and health and the technologies as well, as we’ve seen with mobile technology. It’s not to say other sectors are excluded. In agriculture there’s certainly been those who have helped, or interventions that have helped. For example the WASH, water and sanitation program, has had an incredible impact.

GP: How can you encourage people to care about the MDGs and their lasting effect when some of these goals seem so far out of reach?

AM: The implications of not caring are not acceptable. It is unacceptable that we continue to beat up women. It’s not acceptable that girls can’t go to school. It’s not acceptable you should live with a fistula and not have any hope. It’s not acceptable that you can walk into a hospital not knowing if your going to end up in the morgue or not, It’s absolutely not acceptable that we see children that were born with such a bright future have their lives cut short because there’s a disease we can prevent—malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea.

The implications of not addressing these issues are that you will have insecurity across countries. You will not have civil societies. That’s the imperative for everyone to care and for the impossible to become possible.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Tracy Jarrett reported from South Africa and Mozambique as a press fellow with the International Center for Journalists and the UN Foundation.

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